Washington Nationals waste big lead vs. Baltimore Orioles for second straight day

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2010; D01

BALTIMORE -- For a second straight game, the Washington Nationals appeared to have matters well in hand against their American League neighbors at Camden Yards. They struck early on Saturday for what should have been a relaxing margin, and starter Liván Hernández was keeping Baltimore at bay in bend-but-don't-break fashion.

Then the virtually unthinkable happened again when the Nationals crumbled in almost identical fashion to fall, 6-5, a day after they wasted a six-run lead and lost in the bottom of the ninth on a throwing error.

This time it was reliever Drew Storen's wild pitch that allowed Luke Scott to score in the seventh for what would be the winning run. That the Nationals even reached that point left players in a fog following their third straight loss and ninth in 11 games.

How could they have wasted a five-run lead built after four innings? How could another throwing miscue cost them their second straight game against the team with the worst record in baseball? And what about another young arm out of the bullpen disappointing them?

"I don't know. I don't have the answers," first baseman Adam Dunn said.

Those are, however, questions the Nationals (33-42) must try to solve in the wake of another disastrous result in which they got a strong first few innings from their starter and knocked around Orioles pitching in the opening stages. Hernández gave up one run over the first four innings, and with his track record of pitching deep into games this season, Washington had every reason to believe it was in good shape when his teammates handed him a 5-0 lead.

Hernández's rugged demeanor on the mound makes him an ideal fit for days like this, when high heat and humidity can make pitching anything from uncomfortable to downright fatiguing. The temperature for the first pitch was 91 degrees, where it remained throughout much of the game, prompting many of the 28,635 spectators wearing shorts and T-shirts to fan themselves with programs, lineup sheets or the like.

Hernández initially shrugged off the searing conditions and was able to pitch out of a minor jam in the first, retiring three straight hitters after Baltimore (22-52) put runners on first and second. He gave up a leadoff single in the home half of the second but again set down three consecutive batters before facing the minimum in the third.

In the top of that inning, the Nationals provided Hernández with four runs after sending nine batters to the plate. It began with a walk by Ian Desmond and Nyjer Morgan's sacrifice bunt. Orioles starter Brad Bergesen hit Cristian Guzmán on the left foot to put runners on first and second, and Ryan Zimmerman singled to shortstop to load the bases.

Dunn doubled to right field for his fifth and sixth RBI in two games. Josh Willingham then got an infield single to third, but neither Zimmerman nor Dunn were able to advance. Iván Rodríguez followed by reaching first on a force out at second that allowed Zimmerman to score, and Dunn finally made it home when Roger Bernadina singled to left to make it 4-0.

The Nationals added another run in the fourth when Desmond singled to center, stole second, went to third on another Morgan sacrifice bunt and scored on Guzmán's sacrifice fly to right. Washington faced a similar circumstance on Friday, when it pounded out six runs in the first four innings and appeared well on its way to a tidy victory.

The Orioles, however, had other ideas. They rallied to tie in the eighth off reliever Tyler Clippard and won in the ninth when Guzmán's throwing error to first allowed pinch-runner Jake Fox to score and deal Washington an agonizing loss.

Baltimore mounted another rousing comeback on Saturday, this time at the expense of Hernández, who showed signs of tiring in the fourth by yielding a home run to Adam Jones on a 1-2 count. Then in the fifth, Hernández came undone completely, and the Orioles made it look easy at the plate with four hits in a row to lead off the inning and trigger five runs. The tying two came when Matt Wieters singled sharply to right, scoring Miguel Tejada and Nick Markakis.

Hernández worked one more inning before being lifted for Sean Burnett (0-4) to open the seventh. Markakis walked to lead off but was out at second when Scott reached on a force out. Jones struck out swinging, and Wieters singled up the middle, moving Scott to third. That's when Storen entered and launched a wild pitch with Ty Wigginton at the plate that scored the go-ahead run.

"I was just trying to go down and away there," Storen said. "It's my job to make that big pitch in those tough spots, and today I didn't do it."

The Nationals never threatened in the eighth and ninth innings, when relievers Jason Berken (1-1), Will Ohman and Alfredo Simon combined to yield no hits. Simon's perfect ninth resulted in his eighth save and sent the Nationals away heads hanging, wondering what else could go wrong.

"I'm agonizing over it. I know the players are," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's baseball. It tests your character sometimes, and you've got to pass the test. You've got to be able to handle it. The great teams lose ballgames, and when they lose, they've got to handle it. We're losing way more than our share, and we've got to get out of this as soon as possible."

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